Monday, January 30, 2006

Iran & the Middle East news roundup

Kash - With less than 48 hours before President Bush's "State of the Union" address and four days before IAEA's emergency meeting, Inside sources in Iran reported today that Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had held an emergency meeting of his own, ordering all top-level Iranian officials to attend the private gathering to discuss the current nuclear crisis. There are rumors abound that Khamenei, sensing the gravity of the threat his regime is being faced with, is planning to lessen Ahmadinejad’s influence in the nuclear issue by curbing his decision-making powers (Ahmadinejad's willing to provoke one crisis after another and his attempts at derailing the negotiations with EU-3 seem to have got even some of the hard-line mullahs worried) and instead put Ali Larijani, the head of Iran's national security council, more in control of the situation. A few days earlier, Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani had also expressed his concerns over the nuclear crisis, calling it "the biggest crisis the Islamic Republic has faced in its history." More to come on this development in the hours ahead.

Here is the rest of the news:

  • Washington Post - Bush's Choice on Iran: The debate on Iran is drifting toward the ugly question that the Bush administration would most like to avoid. That is: Is it preferable for the United States to live with the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran, or with those of a unilateral American military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities?

  • Reuters - Merkel Says Iran Threatens Entire Democratic World: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the start of her first visit to Israel on Sunday that Iran threatens not only the Jewish state but the entire democratic world, one of her strongest statements to date. Merkel spoke after meeting interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who expressed Israel's concern at Iran's nuclear programme. Israel, the United States and the European Union accuse Iran of trying to build an atom bomb. Tehran denies this.

  • Fareed Zakaria - Caught by Surprise. Again: In the late 1970s, American officials were aware that the Shah of Iran was losing domestic support. They analyzed alternate scenarios and studied various opposition groups. They thought they were being very bold in their outreach, talking to Marxists, dissidents and other radicals. But they paid little attention to the turban-clad clerics preaching dissent via mosque, audiotape and pamphlet. How many people could possibly support mullahs promising a return to theocracy in the late 20th century? Thirty years later, we're still surprised, and still asking the same questions.

  • Washington Post - In Iran, It's the Regime, Stupid: We need to reorient our strategy. Our justifiable fixation on preventing Iran from getting the bomb has somehow kept us from pursuing a more fundamental and more essential goal: political change in Iran. We need to start supporting liberal and democratic change for an Iranian population that we know seeks both.

  • Michael McFaul and Abbas Milani - To Tame Tehran: On the surface, the regime in Tehran seems to stand together in supporting Iran's more confrontational foreign policy stances. Behind the scenes, however, a fierce struggle is underway.

  • Reuters - Force against Iran seen as perilous last resort: The United States should reserve the option of bombing Iran's nuclear program into oblivion, but it would be a massive military venture that would invite heavy retribution from Tehran. That seemed to be the prevailing view from four days of debate at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where Iran was absent from the line-up of leaders and ministers but figured high on the agenda.